Thursday, January 18, 2007

"We are going to raise the question whether foreign ownership of highways is in fact the best approach for American security."

Jackson Lee to chair panel on transportation security

House Democrat says she'll study safety of private leases for tollways

Jan. 18, 2007

Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was tapped Thursday as chairwoman of a powerful House subcommittee responsible for overseeing the security of the nation's transportation and critical infrastructure sectors.

As head of the House Homeland Security Committee's Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection subcommittee, the Houston Democrat will have authority to assess and oversee government efforts to protect the nation's airports, seaports, rail lines and highways.

Jackson Lee will also have oversight over the Transportation Security Administration and the security of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, and chemical and power plants.

"I am extremely excited," she said.

Noting the Houston area's convergence of airports, rail, petrochemical plants, the Port of Houston, mass transit, the Texas Medical Center and highways, she added, "This committee is one that fits not only for Houston but also the nation."

Jackson Lee served notice that her subcommittee will wade into the controversy over financing new highway construction through tolls and leases to private companies, including foreign ones. "We are going to raise the question whether foreign ownership of highways is in fact the best approach for American security," she said.

On whether she has reached a conclusion on the issue, which could place her at odds with ardent toll-road backer Gov. Rick Perry, Jackson Lee said: "Sometimes revenue has to take a back seat to security."

Jackson Lee's elevation on the Homeland Security Committee, by Democratic leaders, means she definitely will not chair the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, which is sure to be a hub of activity this year.

She has been the top Democrat on that subcommittee for years, but was faced with the fact that a more senior Democrat, California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a former immigration attorney, will assert her claim to that chairmanship when the committee formally organizes next week.

Jackson Lee said she will remain a member of the immigration subcommittee and noted she can also influence the immigration policy debate from her other Homeland Security assignment, the Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.

Another Houston-area lawmaker, Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, also gained assignment to key subcommittees, joining the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee and its railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee.

"Those are going to be areas of critical importance to Congressional District 22, particularly the railroad thing," Lampson said, citing concerns in Fort Bend County over the number of freight trains that cross through communities.

Lampson, who also serves on the Science and Agriculture committees, has gained assignment to an agriculture subcommittee that could help the seafood and cattle industries in his district.

Lampson noted he is a former crawfish farmer.

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